The 45th DIRTcar Nationals returned to racing Wednesday after two inches of rain cancelled the previous night’s events. More than seventy competitors braved the chill, with nearly three dozen Big Block Modifieds joining the late models. During hot laps we saw a telltale cloud of smoke erupt from Canadian modified competitor Tim Kerr. Late model veteran Steve Francis also ended his day before it began when his car veered to the wall in hot laps. Neither returned, and a few others did not complete the night’s program. Beginning with temperatures in the fifties and a brisk wind did not make for a comfortable time, and the next days would be even colder. One would think the “snow birds” from northern climes would not be bothered by this, but there’s something about the damp air that chills us to the bone.
Before the night’s race program began, some awards were presented on the frontstretch stage. Austin Dillon was officially presented with his Gator championship trophy after beating his younger brother Ty in the final point tally. “I actually got a pool in the off season so this will look good there” said Dillon, adding, “I owe a lot of thanks to Shane and Dale McDowell. They’re the ones who build these cars.” Big Block Mod driver Stewart Friesen was presented with the Richie Evans Northeast Driver Award for his performance in 2014. “We had a great 2014 season,” responded Friesen, “We were fortunate to have a good team and good car.” Friesen also got married last year as well.
The Big Blocks were quick at the start of group qualifying, with New York’s Billy Pauch fastest of all in the third group. Heats were won by Anthony Pereggo, Jamie Mills, Pauch and Justin Haers, with Australian Peter Britten leading the six transferees from the last chance race. Provisional starters were added and 26 cars rolled four abreast to salute the crowd. The 30-lap contest would offer $2,000 to the winner. Perrego and Mills began ahead of Pauch, Haers, Mat Williamson, Erik Rudolph and Brett Hearn. Mills got the lead after the green flag, but a spun car cancelled the opening circuit. Mills was ready at the next start and began to lap the back of the thundering pack on lap fourteen. Using traffic to his advantage, Perrego took the point with eleven laps remaining.
The nonstop contest left little opportunity for making progress, yet some did while weaving through the field. It was coming upon Darwin Green’s car that Perrego had problems. Not leaving the inner groove to pass, Perrego was passed by Hearn with four laps remaining. Crossing the final stripe after Hearn were Perrego, Mills and Larry Wight. Hearns posted his 861st win Wednesday, giving credit to those who helped get him here. “It was a great team effort,” replied Hearn, adding, “We had to make some adjustments. You never know how these things are going to work. The track was unbelievably good.” Perrego claimed, “We got good going at the end there. That lapped car killed us. I found a good line in (corners) one and two. I just couldn’t get past that lapped car. Mills stated, “We’ll take a third. We’ll come back tomorrow and see if we can do better.”
Georgia’s Shane Clanton posted the quickest lap in the fifth of six late model qualifying groups. Heat winners were Jared Landers, Morgan Bagley, Jonathan Davenport, Scott Bloomquist, Clanton and Dale McDowell. Last chance contests were won by Tyler Bruening, Mason Ziegler and Dennis Erb Jr. and provisional starts were given to Terry English and Rick Eckert, whose initial car was wrecked. More than a dozen competitors became spectators when the final 28 cars saluted the waving crowd. The 40-lap contest paid the winner $10,000, and everyone had their eyes on the prize. The redraw placed Bagley and Bloomquist in the front row, followed by McDowell, Landers, Clanton, Davenport, Gregg Satterlee, Don O’Neal, Darrell Lanigan and Chub Frank. After the green flag waved, it was nonstop action to the checkers.
Bloomquist got the jump to lead every lap while the rest had to fight for every position. Beginning to lap the back of the pack after only ten circuits, Bloomquist staved off all challengers and crossed the final stripe with a string of lapped cars behind. McDowell got past Bagley, followed by Lanigan and Clanton completing the top five. Bloomquist posted his first win of the year Wednesday, claiming, “You never can tell when you dominate here,” commenting on how special the Volusia oval is to him. “This track is definitely in my top three race tracks, the history of this place.” Commenting on his new partnership, Bloomquist added, “I feel blessed to have these people along. Last night we lost a plug wire and chose the wrong tire. Sometimes they drive themselves, but not at this race track.” Thanking his new partners and car builders, Bloomquist also paid homage to his crew, “Maybe one day I’ll make enough to pay them what they deserve.”
McDowell stated, “It took me a while to get going. We came here and tested a little. It paid off.” Bagley may have been a bit disappointed, claiming, “It wasn’t bad. We’ll get better.” Shortly after 10:30 the program was complete and temperatures were nearing the thirties as everyone sought a warm place. Unfortunately, this was followed by your scribe having an overwhelming need to see her dentist. Thus we ended our Speed Weeks adventure early, and eagerly await news of what follows.
Story & Photo: Fay Hendricks